Hotel expansion signals wine country tourism boom

NAPA, Calif.

Guests at the Meritage Resort and Spa near Highways 12 and 221 in Napa can now eat, drink, and bowl. The hotel is opening 165 guestrooms and suites, doubling its size. There is also a ballroom that's the biggest between Sacramento and San Francisco. Both features are part of a $40 million expansion that took longer than expected. "Back in 2008, we were scheduled to break ground on this $40 million expansion, but as you know, the economy went south," General Manger Michael Palmer said. It took until 2010 to get the 19-month long project going.

The Meritage has already been known for its spa built into a wine cave and an underground tasting room in that same hillside. Above that are grapes used in the five varietals they bottle, but they have added a new look that first started in Southern California. "You think about Napa and you think about food, wine, fitness, wellness, and here it's food, wine, and bowling. And, what's unique about this is it's like an ultra lounge," Palmer said. That's right. There are six lanes of bowling inside the Crush Ultra Lounge. It's a luxury feeling and above each lane, a screen comes down for watching sporting events.

The Meritage is on the southern border of Napa and is virtually self-contained. Palmer says Napa has been adding more hotel rooms and it's paying off. Occupancy is up 18 percent over last year. Their expansion is part of the change in Napa. For a long time, it was a city people would drive through on their way up the valley, but there has been a renaissance with new restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and more hotel rooms. That's 1,500 rooms in the last 10 years with plans for 1100 more.

It's about wine and tourism these days.

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